CEO hopes fans warm to Guaranteed Rate’s name
August 28th, 2016
Victor Ciardelli III was warned there’d be backlash about his company’s name adorning the home of the White Sox.
“Some people don’t like change. But hopefully they’ll get to know Guaranteed Rate,” says Ciardelli, the company’s founder and CEO. “We’re not Google. We’re a Chicago company. I’m going to be motivated to drive people to the park and create a better experience more than any big brand ever would.”
Speaking from his vacation home in Michigan’s Harbor Country, where “it’s chill,” Ciardelli says he didn’t think twice when White Sox Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer called about naming rights for the ballpark. Management at U.S. Cellular Field, as it’s now called, also prepared him for the smack talk about changing the name to Guaranteed Rate Field.
“They said people will have an issue with the name no matter what it is,” he says. But “to be honest,” the exposure has been “amazing.”
Ciardelli grew up in Oak Brook one of four children. His father was an attorney, his mom ran the household. He liked basesball but played basketball and football at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard.
Last week, when Ciardelli threw out the first pitch the Sox game, he wore No. 34 on his jersey–a nod to his idol, the late Walter Payton of the Chicago Bears. The two share July 25 birthdays.
As a kid, Ciardelli says wasn’t afraid to thumb his nose at authority–and he always dreamed big. “I wanted to build skyscrapers.”
He earned business and history degrees from Columbia College in Missouri and sold commercial real estate until he got burned on a big deal. A developer couldn’t make financing.
Ciardelli tried his hand as a telemarketer at a mortgage company and liked it enough to start his own firm in 1992 with a friend.
He bought out his business partner six months later for $8,000. Ciardelli says he struggled for a number of years “building a business on mud. We had no solid base and couldn’t scale it,” he says. “It was frustrating.”
In 2000, he created Guaranteed Rate mortgage lending company new goals–to offer low interest rates to home-buyers while also working in tandem with loan officers and real-estate agents and builders.
He raised $2.5 million from friends and family and the company has been growing ever since. During the recession, when other companies folded, Guaranteed Rate bought up businesses and hired talent.
Today, Guaranteed Rate is the 8th largest mortgage lender in the country with 1,300 employees–with about 700 in the company’s headquarters in Ravenswood. The company made about $18 billion in mortgages last year and expects to hit $22 billion this year.
Ciardelli credits his ex-wife, Paula, with helping him get through tough times in business. They have two sons in college, a 6th-grade daughter and a 15-year-old daughter who runs through the North Shore forest preserves with her dad in tow.
Scott Stephen came to know the Chicago businessman through sports–they go to Bulls and Blackhawks games together–and then started working for Guaranteed Rate. Stephen is president of the company’s online division. “He’s gregarious and generous and magnanimous. He has a big personality but without the ego. And he’d do anything for you,” Stephen says of Ciardelli. He says his boss has gone the extra mile by personally helping Stephen’s family as his wife undergoes cancer treatment.
Ciardelli will be front and center when the ballpark is renamed Guaranteed Rate Field on Nov. 9–that’s when Northern Illinois University will face University of Toledo for the park’s first college football game.
Ciardelli says he’ll pump $1 million into his foundation, which helps employees and close associates in need, so that it also includes Sox season ticket holders. He hopes that helps fans warm to the stadium’s new name.
As for its nickname, he says, “I like ‘the Rate,’ but I’m OK with whatever fans want to call it.”
And about that down arrow that brands his company, he says, “I love it. It represents low interest rates. And maybe (pitchers’) ERAs going down.”